Peter Temple: Bad Debts (1996) A Jack Irish Mystery

Meet Jack Irish: some-time lawyer, part-time private eye, spare-time cabinet maker and full-time lover of strong coffee, swift horses and spirited women.

Bad Debts is the first in Australian crime writer Peter Temple’s Jack Irish series. Temple has won a lot of Australian prizes for his crime and thriller writing. I think it is the first time I read an Australian crime writer. I was very curious and looking forward to the novel and for a total of 50 pages I really enjoyed it.

It’s starts off well enough, quite sarcastic and humorous. Jack Irish seems a typical hardboiled private eye and debt collector. He used to be a lawyer but when his wife is killed he starts drinking and spends a year in total limbo. Sometime during that year he has to defend Danny McKillop, a drunk-driver, who killed a woman. The woman he killed, Anne Jeppeson, was an activist and pain in the neck for many people. The driver had no memory of either driving a car or hitting someone.

Ten years have gone by and all of a sudden Danny McKillop leaves messages on Jack’s answering machine. By the time Jack hears them McKillop has been shot by the police. Jack feels guilty. It seems to him as if he had let down McKillop a second time and he starts to investigate not only his death but also Anne Jeppeson’s death.

After interviewing a few people he finds out that there were and are a lot of strange things going on. People in high places are doing things they don’t want anyone to find out about. His investigation leads Jack deep into corruption and conspiracy and the farther he gets into these things, the more he endangers himself. The last third of the novel is very action-packed.

The beginning of the novel was humorous and I thought it might be one of the series I would like to explore further but after 20-50 pages, there were far too many things I didn’t like. Jack isn’t a lawyer anymore, he tries to make a living collecting debts, betting on horses and doing cabinets. All these different occupations take up time and pages which is very disruptive. On top of that I hate horse-racing stories. Not only do I despise horse-racing I also find it outrageously boring to read about it.

Another problem I had was the language. A large part of the novel consists of dialogue. Australian spoken language seems much closer to British English than to American English. I certainly didn’t mind that. But I did mind that most of the dialogue was composed of swearing and foul language. It was somewhat tiring after a while. And there is the love story. Maybe Jack has been mourning for ten years, but for us, who just got to know him, it’s odd to see him mourn on one page and jump at full speed into a love affair on the next one. And how do I have to picture a woman who is not good-looking but handsome?

I realized that I have a few first and occasionally second books in series at hand and decided to start to read my way through them. Peter Temple’s book was one of them. I’m sure the Jack Irish series has its merits, only I couldn’t find them.

Does anyone know the series? Or any other Australian crime novels/series?

16 thoughts on “Peter Temple: Bad Debts (1996) A Jack Irish Mystery

    • He somehow managed. It could be that this is a series that improves. there are some like that. I remember one of Max’s posts on Ian Rankin. i think he wrote that the series gets better. On he other hand I already liked the first Rankin. No idea why I never read another.

  1. I find I’m quite picky about crime. A lot of it doesn’t really work for me. Nicola Upson was someone I tried but couldn’t quite like, the first Tana French book was just okay, and Michelle Spring who used to be great, seems to have gone off the boil lately. It’s a shame because there is nothing like a really good piece of crime fiction to remind you why you love reading. Sorry this one didn’t work for you.

    • I also tried quite a few in the past that were not that great. I don’t think I read Michelle Spring. I should give her first ones a try then? It’s true what you say about good crime fiction and its ability to remind us why we love reading. Maybe I should stick to those I love like Rendell. On the other hand I’m too much of an explorer. And you never know what you might find.
      I am very confident you wouldn’t have liked this. The crime part wasn’t all that bad but the dialogue was painful and the character is too composite.

  2. I have this book–only with a different cover. I recently bought it at a library sale. I tend to be a pretty forgiving reader when it comes to books in general and read a lot of crime novels, but it does sound like he is trying to tackle a lot here. The only Australian author I’ve read in terms of crime novels–is Kerry Greenwood, though she really writes historical mysteries–they are set in Melbourne in the 1920s and the character is Phryne Fisher–she is someone you either love or hate, but I have taken a liking to her. Greenwood also writes a contemporary series about a baker, though I’ve not yet read those. Sometimes the books getting better later in the series–will you try another or have you had enough? 🙂

    • Thanks for the tip.
      I’m curious whether you will like this one… I will not give it another try unless I see a review saying the second is unlike the first and fantastically good. In cozy crime it is typical, if it’s an amateur sleuth, to have some strange hobbies but it’s often exactly this mix of crime with the hobby that makes you read them. In this case I don’t even like his parallel jobs.

  3. I haven’t heard of this series and from what I read, sounds like I will pass on it. I do like the cover. It looks intriguing but if you didn’t like it I can’t imagine I would find it all that inspiring.

    • I did like the cover as well. I imagined he would be some lone-wolf type of character but that’s not what he is. I think it would have been beter if the love story would have taken place in part 2 or so. To abrupt.
      Thanks for trusting my tastemm 🙂 I really can’t imagine you would like it but it would be great for you to test your British English. I can see how American readers might strugggle with the vocabulary.

    • I don’t know what NASCAR is, to be honest.
      I hate horse and dog racing equally. Not only because it’s boring. The animals can get injured and if they don’t run well anymore, they are discarded.

  4. You got tired after 50pages, did you finish it?

    I also don’t like foul language used to much. Once in a while is fine.

    Hehehe I have to laugh at that ‘not good looking but handsome’. I have seen that kind of woman a lot. If you enjoy Japanese style as much as I do, Handsome women are quite a lot. Have you ever read my post on Honoo Doiko (a taiko group)? one of the taiko-ers, Yamada-san is really handsome, my friend and I called her as handsome aunty.

  5. I don’t know this series. I have to admit I wouldn’t be bothered by the language, it seems in character from what you describe and I’ve no problem with horse racing either (in a book, I have some issues with it in real life actually but that’s a different matter).

    Still, it sounds a bit generic, and I have other crime series I’m more interested in and no room for new ones unless they’re pretty exceptional.

    Regarding Rankin, they do improve so if you liked the first you should try some others. The one set in London (I discuss it on my blog) isn’t great but generally they get better as Rankin gets more settled into his craft. I also find Rankin greatly improved if you read his prose with a Scottish accent in mind. It flows better.

    • I’m not so sure the language wouldn’t have bothered ypu. Compared to that the guys in some US series like the Wire sounded like choir boys (and I have seen the famous f*** episode).
      The horse racing was very boring and confusing.
      Like you I need a crime series to be really good to want to pursue it. I just thought it was a bit disappointing as it seems to be one of the best Australian ones.
      I have no idea why I never read another Rankin. I really need to.

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